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Bruce Powell

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On July 17, 2009, Chicago police narcotics officers Douglas Nichols, Jr. and Manuel Leano arrested 42-year-old Bruce Powell near the intersection of 35th Street and Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago. The officers reported that as they approached him, Powell dropped a plastic bag containing six smaller bags of heroin.

Powell was taken to a police station where the officers conducted three separate anal cavity searches, none of which turned up narcotics. Powell was allowed to call his sister from the lockup and he told her that the officers had planted the heroin and had conducted physically painful cavity searches and were pressuring him not to seek medical treatment.

Despite that pressure, Powell insisted and was taken to a hospital for medical treatment. Powell's sister then filed a complaint with the police department’s Office of Professional Standards.

The complaint was assigned to Sgt. Ronald Watts, the head of a Chicago narcotics unit and the supervisor of Leano and Nichols. Watts subsequently filed a report saying that Powell’s sister had refused to cooperate, and the complaint was ultimately dismissed as unfounded.

On August 25, 2009, Powell pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was released on parole on January 15, 2010.

On July 10, 2017, Powell was exonerated following a re-investigation of his case by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit. The investigation established as fact what Powell had claimed from the beginning. The officers who framed him were part of a Chicago police narcotics unit that stole money from people—some of them drug dealers—and planted drugs on others.

In 2012, Sgt. Ronald Watts, who headed the narcotics unit, and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed were caught on tape stealing money from a man they believed was a drug courier, but who was in fact secretly working as a confidential FBI informant. In 2013, Watts and Mohammed pled guilty in U.S. District Court to taking money from the informant. Mohammed was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison.

Federal prosecutors said Watts “used his badge and his position as a sergeant with the Chicago Police Department to shield his own criminal activity from law enforcement scrutiny. He recruited another CPD officer into his crimes, stealing drug money and extorting protection payments from the drug dealers who terrorized the community that he [Watts] had sworn to protect.”

In 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office vacated the convictions of Ben Baker and his wife, Clarissa Glenn, as well as the conviction of Lionel White Sr.. All three had been arrested and falsely accused of drug possession by officers working for Watts.

In April 2017, attorney Joel Flaxman filed a petition to vacate Powell’s 2009 conviction, as well as the 2007 conviction of William Carter based on the corrupt activities of Watts and the officers in his unit.

On July 10, 2017, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s conviction integrity unit filed a motion to vacate Powell’s conviction as well as three of Carter’s drug convictions, all of which were the product of Watts’s unit. Chief Criminal Court Judge Leroy Martin granted the motion, and all charges were dismissed.

Two days later, Powell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against officers Nichols and Leano, the Chicago police department, and the city of Chicago. Powell also was granted a certificate of innocence and subsequently was awarded $97,075 in compensation by the state of Illinois.

In November 2017, following a re-investigation of numerous other cases involving Watts, the Cook County State's Attorney's conviction integrity unit dismissed 17 convictions involving 15 more defendants. Those defendants included Lionel White Jr., the son of Lionel White Sr. Joshua Tepfer, an attorney at the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School who represented Baker, his wife and the others who were exonerated, estimated that at Watts and members of his unit were responsible for at least 500 more convictions.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/3/2017
Last Updated: 3/30/2019
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2009
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:42
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No